The Origination of Presidents Day
By TRCF intern Natalia Mitsui
Presidents Day is apparently one of the more deceiving holidays. First of all, the federal holiday is not even officially called Presidents Day, but Washington’s Birthday. George Washington, the first president of the U.S., was born on February 22, 1732. In the seventeenth century Washington became a war legend and his birthday was celebrated during his lifetime.
Washington’s birthday was commemorated regularly since 1880 and the bill that made it a federal holiday was signed by President Chester Arthur in 1885. This would make Washington the first American citizen to have a holiday in his honor –the only other person is Martin Luther King, Jr.
The confusion, or misinterpretation, about the day began in 1971 when it was permanently moved to the third Monday in February with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which also standardized Memorial Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day. The Congressional act was aimed to increasing the amount of three-day weekends for federal employees. Ironically, because of this move, Washington’s Birthday is never celebrated on the 22nd; instead, the holiday falls between the 15th and 21st.
Despite the holiday’s proximity to Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12th, 1809), it is not federally designated to honor him. There have been previous failed attempts to have an official Presidents Day instated, but the bill has never passed; the same is true for a proposed day in commemoration of the office of the presidency as opposed to honoring past presidents.
Stylistically “Presidents Day” is preferred over “President’s Day,” but neither are official federal titles. Some states have adopted Presidents Day as an official holiday to include Lincoln in the festivities.
Since the 1980s, the holiday has been watered down through the years. Many offices, businesses, and schools no longer close for the day. The holiday now means retail sales more than it does the commemoration of the first president.
The argument is that the day has steered away from its original intention of paying tribute to Washington and patriotism. Some advocates of the original name believe that there needs to be a move away from the retail and greeting card company altered holiday.
Although Washington’s Birthday is one of the more forgotten holidays of the year, and most people do not get the day off, it needs to be remembered that it was a day celebrating the achievements of one man and not a general catch-all for all heads of state.